Looking Back and Ahead with Digital Dragon Co-Founders!

What is in the secret sauce of the tech education business? Learn what the future holds!

This certainly is the year of the Dragon! As our very own Digital Dragon celebrates a decade of bringing engaging tech education to the Santa Monica area and beyond, let’s shine a spotlight on the team that made it all happen – Digital Dragon co-founders, Seth and Laurie!


Group of Students learning technology

John: Way back when Digital Dragon was just kicking off it was really just the three of us – and Eli – could you have imagined how many students you’ve engaged with over the past ten years? Knowing that many have gone on in their education and careers, if you could slip back in time and tell your younger selves and the youth of the inaugural Digital Dragon cohort something, what would it be?

Seth: Great question John, I’d start answering this by saying there was so much we didn’t know when we started Digital Dragon. I’d add that we pivoted in many ways with our business model, the business side proved to be very different than we thought it would be. The only thing I can think of that hasn’t changed is the idea that kids should get their hands on creating with technology early, and often, and both kids and adults should pay a lot of attention to where kids’ true passions lie. So I guess that’s a long winded way of saying, I’d tell my younger self the same things we tell our students: iterate when things don’t go the way you think they will!

Laurie: I would tell those first clients the same thing I told Eli, our son, pursue what you like and be open to other subjects too. I wrote in an earlier post how Eli loved video games so much and thought a career in that field would be amazing. He then fell in love with digital production and joined the school TV News team, and that turned into a love for photography and a night class at SMC. Digital Design in HS led to mastering graphics for websites and IG accounts of friends. All of that is to say, it is a good reminder to all the parents – let your kids explore all areas of tech education, and maybe they will graduate from college as a Business major! 

John: It’s always amazing to be able to follow passions and of course be able to iterate on those. One might say, at Digital Dragon you’re encouraged to spread your wings.

A follow up to that. How has the mission of Digital Dragon evolved since the early days?

Students in a classroom learning computer programming.

Seth: John as you well know, we started Digital Dragon because our son Eli didn’t have a place to tinker with tech in a thoughtful, and structured way. While the tools we teach have evolved, and the world survived (mostly) a pandemic, and yet, our mission is still the same, we support students in creating with technology, that’s all we do. I would say how we do that has evolved, more of our work is done on school campuses than had been the case when we started. 

Laurie: As Seth mentions we expanded our initial focus and now get to also take our curriculum straight to school campuses. Our studio has been and remains a place where we get to work with smaller groups of students and explore and test new ideas for curricula. Our students give us real time feedback that allows us to adjust and expand our subject matter. We have been able to add not only what students want, but what our instructors are passionate about. This semester we have a Digital Music Production class in our studio, and our teacher is a real-life musician that tours with his band!

John:  It’s a wonderful set up to be in both classrooms and have a studio for all those reasons. I also think it’s great that the team at Digital Dragon has real life experience as well as a devotion to sharing that passion. I recall our foray into music production was with the Moog Kit from Littlebits.

While I was at Digital Dragon there were so many magical moments. One that jumps out for me was our Pi Day celebration and programming a Raspberry Pi to play retro games. The students that day were of all ages and everyone got a chance to make it happen. What are the magical moments that you’d like to share with our readers?

Seth: A great moment of pride for us was taking over at a school partner when their computer science teacher was unable to complete the school year. There were about 50 students in those classes that really needed instant guidance, especially the students who had an AP test they’d have to complete. Putting those classes back together was really repairing a chunk of the school community. That was delicate, difficult work in terms of teaching the content, figuring out where students were, and regaining trust. It felt like repairing a moving car, but with spectacular support from our partner school’s administrative staff, we were able to make those classes successful, and most of the students passed their AP test!

FIRST LEGO Robotics League

Laurie: An early magical memory was when we sent our first team to compete in the LEGO FIRST Robotics challenge! It was great to see our students working together as a team to not only complete the Robotics course part, but to present a group project they worked on – solving a problem in the community. I was the team manager, and saw teams of students from all over Los Angeles working hard to not only complete all the tasks, but show HOW they worked together. That is magical – kids learning new technology, but doing it with classmates, over time with a community goal. 

John: What’s really neat about this is how varied these moments are. I think it highlights how broad a range of topics Digital Dragon covers and how community is at the core.  

With technology advancing, it seems that teamwork and project based learning continues to grow in importance and with those moments in mind, how do you envision the next 10 years for Digital Dragon? 

Digital Design class at Digital Dragon for middle school students

Seth: It’s interesting John, as you well know, when you’re in the thick of planning curriculum and lessons, our frequent tweaks add up to pretty substantial changes in pedagogy over time. For example, digital design tools have advanced dramatically, the tools we used to use worked well for teaching the concepts, but now what’s possible on a platform like Canva just makes it so easy for not only the teaching side, but more importantly for kids to use these tools at home. They no longer have to have an Adobe subscription, so much is possible on free platforms, I really think that allows kids to get their hands dirty on these tools more easily. Ease of access just has to lead to more experimentation, and exposure, which has to lead to great digital creation. Thrilled to be a part of making that happen, and leading students, really families, on that adventure!

Laurie: One year ago I was really mad at the idea of AI, but now Digital Dragon will be embracing it! We won’t be letting it replace our instructors or the creation of original curricula, but we will be able to teach our students what it can be good for and the pitfalls. We can explore how it works, learn how it has been developed thus far, and we can follow along with the advances. We will be introducing it in our Animation Studio Summer Camp this year. Wish us luck! 

John: Thank you both for the conversation and yes! Digital Dragon has continued to evolve and shift with the trends and times which allows for authentic and relevant experiences to support creative and curious minds!

TLDR;  A huge congratulations to Seth and Laurie and every Digital Dragon team member past and present for being part of something truly special. 10 years of changing how students engage with technology is truly amazing. This is Digital Dragon and hear us roar!

About the Author:

John Balash was instrumental in Digital Dragon’s launch in 2013 as its first Curriculum Director and is now back in the fold as a consultant on all the latest and greatest in tech education.This is John’s latest contribution to a monthly blog series we’ve launched, Tech News from the Frontier. John is the Director of Educational Engagement at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. John has worked on educationally-focused initiatives with clients ranging from D.A.R.P.A. to Disney. Working from both sides of the desk, you can find John in classrooms and conferences around the world exploring new uses for technologies in learning environments.